Mark\’s Rants, Raves And Other Things ;)

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Archive for the ‘London’ Category

London Day 5 and the train to Paris

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 10, 2008

We woke up relatively early, packed, had breakfast followed by more packing. We then proceeded to check out of the hotel and caught a train to King Cross station where we dropped our luggage off in the left luggage store in St Pancras International station which is joined to King Cross station and is where the Eurostar train departs from. We also picked up our train tickets only to discover that the automated system had put us in seats that weren’t actually together (there was an aisle between them). We went to the customer service window where it looked like a lot of people were having seat issues and were told that the system for some unknown reason does things like this. The seats were corrected and we headed back to Kings Cross station.

Kings Cross station is an interchange for 7 different Underground lines as well as a main terminal for trains within the UK so as you can expect it was exceptionally busy. We hopped on a Piccadilly line train to head down to Knightsbridge. The train was so packed that we had to cram into the doorway and bend our heads to the curve of the train to be able to get on. This was a Saturday so I dread to think what the trains must be like during peak hours on a normal weekday.

Once we reached Knightsbridge,we headed to check out Harrods. At Harrods we mainly wandered around as it is way too expensive and upmarket for us and had a gelati before heading back to Kings Cross/St Pancras, where we picked up our luggage and proceeded to the Eurostar check in.

Once checked in, we passed through security and passport control (where they give you a French passport stamp) and waited to board the train.

The train trip wasn’t bad. We had a meal and some French Champagne and wine and got to see the British and French countrysides. The Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) wasn’t as exciting as we both expected as it is literally just darkness outside the train for about 20 minutes or so. The train trip took a little over 2 hours and arrived in Paris’ Gare Du Nord station.

At Gare Du Nord, we validated our Paris Visite tickets and the RER Line A to Hausmann Saint-Lazare station where I mistakedly thought we had to catch Metro line 13 to our hotel which was located next to Rue du Bac station when in fact we had to catch Metro line 12. The problem with this was that the 2 Metro lines were at completely opposite sides of the station so we had to lug our 4 suitcases, 2 camera bags and 2 carry-ons all the way to a wrong station then walk all the way back to the other station.

Once we got to Rue du Bac station, we headed to our hotel (K+K Cayre) and checked in. This time I asked to look at the room first without taking all the luggage up in case there was another issue like in London. Luckily the room was fine so we took our luggage up and rested for a little bit.

We asked at reception for a recommendation for dinner and were directed to a French restaurant up the street called A La Petite Chaise, which is the oldest restaurant in Paris. The food was really good. I ate smoked salmon with a purple mustard cream, duck fillet with a roasted apple and finished with a creme brulee).

After dinner we headed back to the hotel.

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London Day 4

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on April 10, 2008

After breakfast, we hopped on the Tube to go to the Tate Modern gallery. The Tate Modern as the name suggests mainly has modern art which is classified as any art since 1900. I’ll be frank and say I don’t get modern art. Some of it looks like it could be done by a 5 year old yet I’m sure is worth thousands of dollars. I’ll take 2 examples from the art pieces we saw. One piece was a piece of canvas with a big knife slash in it. Another piece was a piece of string threaded through pieces of soap. See what I mean?

There was some cool stuff in the Tate Modern though such as the room with geometric shapes created out of lines, some of Roy Lichtenstein‘s pieces and the big crack through the Turbine Hall on the gallery’s ground floor.

When we left the Tate, it started to rain heavily and we didn’t have any raincoats or umbrellas. We quickly made our way over the Millennium Bridge with its view of St Paul’s Cathedral and stopped to have lunch at restaurant called Itsu. Itsu specialize in healthy sushi, salad and noodles and is definitely worth visiting for a quick and healthy meal while in London. The menu can be read here. The mint tea is definitely worth a try as they literally use fresh mint leaves in a tea bag. The thai basil lemonade is also very unusual.

After lunch, we headed off to St Paul’s station and caught a train to Marble Arch station to view the Marble Arch, which was the original gateway to Buckingham Palace. I was under the wrong impression that Marble Arch was Wellington Arch and Wellington Arch was what I actually wanted to see as you can to the top of it and look our over Hyde Park and the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Some nearby tramps saw that we looked puzzled and asked us what we were looking for to which we replied Wellington Arch. They were very helpful and gave us directions to where it was located.

It turns out that we at the opposite side of Hyde Park from it so we walked down Park Lane through the suburb of Mayfair down to Hyde Park Corner where Wellington Arch and the Australian War Memorial (not that we realised what it was until the gentleman in Wellington Arch told us) are. We went up to top of Wellington Arch and took some pictures before proceeding to Hyde Park Corner Station to head to Holborn station so we could go to the British Museum.

The British Museum is a weird place. It’s interesting to see all the historical artifacts but at the same time you know what a lot of them (e.g. the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Greece) were effectively stolen in the name of “preservation”.

After the British Museum, we headed back to Earls Court where we had dinner at an restaurant called Masala Zone which emphasises traditional Indian food before going back to the hotel for the evening.

Monopoly places visited:

Park Lane

Mayfair

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I wouldn’t want to be touching that…

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 31, 2008

One thing I forgot to mention about the Edinburgh to London train is that under every sign there was a braille sign for blind people. I’m not sure about you but I wouldn’t want to have to feel over every surface in a toilet on a train to get the instructions how to use it…

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20p to pee

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 29, 2008

One annoying thing in both London and Paris is that you generally have to pay to utilise a public toilet  by depositing coins into a turnstile or pay an attendant before you can enter. In London, the cost was generally 20p. I’m don’t think the that the cost is good value as the toilets generally don’t really seem any cleaner than most free public toilets that I’ve used.

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Monopoly bingo update

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 28, 2008

I’ve updated the Monopoly bingo post with more Monopoly places that we visited today and have also updated the previous daily entries with the places visited each day.

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A trip to the country (aka London Day 3)

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 27, 2008

Craig’s great aunt Olive (his grandmother’s sister) lives in Devon which is a shire located to the south west of the UK (and is the origin of Devonshire as in Devonshire tea) so we decided a few months back that we would go visit her while we were in London as he hadn’t seen her in about 15 years or so.

As such we caught a train this morning from Paddington Station (after which Paddington Bear is named) to Exeter St David Station where we were picked by Craig’s great aunt, his second cousin Sue and her husband John, who took us for a drive to Dawlish before heading to the Swan’s Nest pub for lunch (I had fish and chips and salad and Craig had Steak and Otter Ale pie and salad).

They then took us to the village of Sidmouth, which as the name suggests is the mouth of the river Sid. There we looked at cliffs which are a world heritage site from Jacob’s Ladder in the Connaught Gardens before proceeding for a stroll along the esplanade of the village.

Finally we went back to Aunt Olive’s house in Sidford (which is a village next to Sidmouth) for a cup of tea before heading back to Exeter to catch our train back to London.

Both Craig and I had a great day and really enjoyed meeting his great aunt and cousin. It was also nice as it was the first sunny day that we have had whilst we’ve been in the UK.

A map of where we went today can be seen here.

Once we arrived back in London, I went and bought some Japanese dinner from a restaurant called Kappa and took it back to the hotel.

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Monopoly bingo

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 27, 2008

The Australian (and British) Monopoly boards are based on streets and stations around Central London. As such, I thought it would be fun to mark off each location as we have been to them.

Old Kent Road

Whitechapel Road

The Angel Islington

Euston Road

Pentonville Road

Pall Mall

Whitehall

Northumberland Avenue

Bow Street

Marlborough Street

Vine Street

The Strand

Fleet Street

Trafalgar Square

Leicester Square

Coventry Street

Piccadilly

Regent Street

Oxford Street

Bond Street

Park Lane

Mayfair

King’s Cross Station

Marylebone Station

Fenchurch St Station

Liverpool St Station

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London Day 2

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 27, 2008

After breakfast, we caught the Tube to Victoria and walked down Buckingham Palace Road to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. It was very crowded  and we couldn’t see much so Craig and I stayed briefly to take a few pictures of Buckingham Palace and its surroundings and some of the new guards approaching before heading to St James Park station to catch the Tube to Tower Hill to go to the Tower of London.

At the Tower of London, we took a guided tour with one of the Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters) and went to look at the Crown Jewels. We then had lunch at the cafe which was very expensive and poor value. Next, we went up one of the ramparts to take some photos of the Tower Bridge.

Following this, we left the Tower of London and headed to the Tower Bridge Exhibition, where they have converted the upper span of the bridge into viewing platforms where you can look up and down the Thames River and the two towers into displays.

After the Tower Bridge, we walked over to Tower Gateway station and cause the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) to Greenwich. At Greenwich, we walked to the Royal Observatory which lies on the prime meridian (longitude 0°) which is the basis for time zones (hence the name Greenwich Mean Time). Unfortunately, we arrived a little late and the Observatory had shut so we could only see the prime meridian marker through the gates. At this point, it also started to rain heavily and we got soaked walking back to the DLR station.

We caught the DLR back into central London. As the interchange at Bank and Monument which would have allowed one train change to get to Earls Court  is currently undergoing work, we had to get off at Canary Wharf (and no we didn’t see Daleks or Cybermen or Torchwood fighting each other for all you Doctor Who fans) and change to the Jubilee line to get to Westminster then onto the District line to Earls Court. This was the first time that we had caught a train during peak time and the train was so crowded that some people stood pretty much right against the door with their heads bent to the curvature of the carriage.

Once back at the hotel, I had a brief sleep before heading out with Craig to do some washing at a nearby laundromat. After the washing was done (around 9:30PM), Craig headed back to the hotel with the washing and I went to Gourmet Burger Kitchen to get some dinner which consisted of a burger (I had a Satay Beef and Craig has a Chicken, Camembert and Cranberry), fries and side salad each which we ate in the hotel room.

After dinner, I headed off to bed as we had to get up early.

Monopoly places visited:

Fenchurch St Station

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London Day 1

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 27, 2008

After having the breakfast buffet in the hotel, we caught the Tube to Madame Tussaud’s (District line to Edgware Road then Circle line to Baker St). Before we had left Seattle, I had purchased a discounted combination ticket to Madame Tussaud’s and the London Eye. The only condition was that I had to specify a time when we would be at Madame Tussaud’s. Stupid me thought that that would mean that we get in quicker. Boy was I wrong. When we arrived there was a massive queue which we thought was people purchasing tickets. After asking one of the staff members, we were advised that this was line for vouchers and prepaid tickets. From the impression I got, quite a few other people had thought the same thing that I did with regards to the prepurchased tickets i.e. that it would mean not having to queue, etc. Overall it took about 1/2 hour to get inside to Madame Tussaud’s.

Once inside the place was ridiculously crowded, making it very difficult to take photos, etc. as people would continually bump you or walk right in front of you while trying to take a picture. I had previously been to Madame Tussaud’s back in 1988 on a vacation with my parents and siblings and I remember it being as crowded. The crowds made it not very enjoyable and I wouldn’t go back again. The Chamber Live is worth skipping too as it was really scary at all. The only good thing was the Spirit Of London ride which takes you through some of the history of London.

I was also disappointed to learn that the London Planetarium which was located next to Madame Tussaud’s has been converted into the Stardome which simply shows an animation movie on the domed roof and is just another part of the whole Madame Tussaud’s star (not of the astronomical kind) focus.

I think a large part of the problem with Madame Tussaud’s is that you are forced to walk through the whole attraction from start to finish with no clear paths or separations even when there should be.

After leaving Madame Tussaud’s, we caught the Bakerloo line to Piccadilly Circus. After taking a few photos, we headed down Regent St to The Strand where we saw the Admiralty Arch before heading to Trafalgar Square, where we saw Nelson’s Column and stopped to have some lunch in the Square. We had some sandwiches and sushi that we bought from Pret A Manger which was across the road from the Square.

After lunch we headed down Whitehall, past Downing St (where the British Prime Minister) to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, where we stopped to take photos of both and of the London Eye.

We next proceeded to the London Eye to utilise the remainder of the Madame Tussaud’s ticket combination. The London Eye is a big ferris wheel that is located on the embankment of the Thames River diagonally opposite of Big Ben. You get put into a glass bubble which holds about 25 people and gives views in all directions. Being a ferris wheel, I thought that the London Eye would move quite quickly but it moved relatively slowly to allow you to get an optimal view of London and a chance to look in all direction.

Next we hopped on the tube from Westminster to Victoria via the District line to pick up our tickets for Wicked that evening. Following this we headed back to the hotel room where I did some blogging and Craig had a short sleep.

We caught the Tube back to Victoria and headed to the Apollo Victoria Theatre where Wicked is currently showing. Wicked is a musical based on the book by Gregory Macguire about the witches of Oz (as in the Wizard of Oz) and is effectively a back story as seen from the Wicked Witch of the West’s perspective. The story was enjoyable but as a musical it didn’t really have any standout music except for the song Defy Gravity which leads into the intermission. I give it about a 6 out of 10.

After the show, we had a dinner across the road at the Duke of York pub before heading back to our hotel room for the night.

Monopoly places visited:

Pall Mall

Whitehall

Northumberland Avenue

The Strand

Trafalgar Square

Regent Street

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London Underground map

Posted by Mark Sztainbok on March 27, 2008

In my London posts, I refer to quite a few Underground stations. You can find a Tube Map here so you know what I’m talking about 😉

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